• Steve Brown

Newberry Springs CSD Files Appeal on Daggett Solar Project

When the San Bernardino County Planning Commission ignored CEQA ( California Environmental Quality Act) violations in the Final Environmental Impact Report for the Daggett Solar Power Project, and approved the project, the Newberry Springs Community Services District filed an appeal to the Board of Supervisors.

"The Daggett Solar Power Project's Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) approved by the Planning Commission on September 19, 2019 contains multiple defects and omissions and must not be certified by the Board of Supervisors," the appeal states.

The appeal notes the FEIR is in violation of CEQA regulations on:

Hazards - The proposed on-site lithium-ion battery storage component that would store 450 million watts of electrical power at the Daggett site leaves the site vulnerable to lithium-ion battery fires. "These fires are documented to have occurred worldwide in lithium-ion Energy Storage Systems (ESSs)," the appeal explains, adding that the failure of even one internal ESS fire protection system within the 16 acres of proposed battery storage could pose "unacceptable risks" to the fire department and law enforcement first responders, as well as to the surrounding communities.

The appeal includes current news stories about battery storage explosions and fires as exhibits. One from April, 2019, details an explosion of a large battery (approximately the size of a cargo shipping container) owned by Arizona Public Service Co. that sent eight firefighters and one police officer to the hospital after the battery suffered a "catastrophic failure." Explosions of lithium-ion batters can produce cyanide and hydrofluoric acid. The batteries at the Arizona project require constant cooling to maintain a temperature of 75 degrees to prevent them from overheating, and are monitored remotely. Arizona Public Service Co. has suffered a previous battery fire at a facility in the Flagstaff area.

While the County has noted training would be provided for Daggett and Newberry Springs fire departments, it is unclear whether these agencies have adequate personnel and the proper equipment to respond effectively to these kinds of battery fires and explosions, especially in conditions of high winds and low humidity that are common in the area. Mojave Watch has reached out to both fire departments for detailed information on their capabilities.

Air Quality - "The health hazards and the damage to homes, property and property values from airborne dust are major concerns of local residents," the appeal notes. It adds that CEQA mandates the Planning Commission "must not cerfity a Final EIR" unless it is "adequate and complete." The County's Staff Report on the FEIR claims the project would not exceed Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District thresholds and operational impacts would be "less than significant," but also finds that monitoring air quality from a monitor positioned upwind of the project is also sufficient. "MDAQMD's nearest UPSTREAM air quality monitor is in Barstow, approximately 10 miles UPSTREAM," the appeal notes. MDAQMD has no monitors downwind of the proposed project.

In previously approved solar power projects in the desert region of San Bernardino County, airborne dust, including PM 10 and PM 2.5 particulates, have been noted as a significant problem by nearby residents. In addition, residents have noted that the County has been negligent in monitoring approved projects as specified in their approvals, leaving residents to cope with blowing sand and dust, health issues, a reduction in quality of life, and reduced property values.

Social, Economic and Environmental Justice - "The FEIR fails to properly address multiple Social, Economic and Environmental Justice issues," the appeal notes. "California correctly recognizes that human beings are part of the environment. According to California Law, the EIR must properly consider and address these issues. One such example is the economic issue of the loss of property value of the owners of property in nearby, disadvantaged communities."

The appeal also notes the FEIR "contains multiple violations of the San Bernardino County Development Code Section 84.29.035 (Required Findings for Approval of a Commercial Solar Energy Facility).

A hearing for the appeal has not yet been set by the Board of Supervisors or for consideration of the Daggett Solar Power Project FEIR.

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